Unsustainable energy consumption

Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Inefficient use of energy resources
Use of energy-intensive products
High energy development
Wasted energy resources
Energy inefficiency

It is difficult to overstate human impact on the Earth's life-support systems. All living organisms depend on the world's net primary productivity -- the energy trapped by the world's green plants via photosynthesis. Renewable energy resources are being consumed by humans out of proportion to its own needs and the quota required by other living beings and at a rate greater than natural replacement. Current energy use practices are also degrading the environment at unacceptable levels.

The world's non-renewable energy resources, notably fossil fuels, are also being rapidly depleted. This is due to the accelerating energy requirements made by rapid global population growth and development. It is predicted that certain regions of the world will consequently face increasing energy shortages. Wasteful and inefficient energy use practices are a significant contributor to energy exhaustion. For instance, some of the fastest population growth is occurring in countries dependent mostly on fuelwood, facilitating its unsustainable consumption by deforestation.


In 1994, OECD reported that there has been a general increase in total energy consumption of 30 percent over the past 20 years. By 2010, OECD countries are expected to be consuming 30 percent more energy and nearly 20 percent more oil than in 1990.

An analysis by IIASA of different types of electric light bulbs took into account the total energy consumption and costs of every stage in the electricity supply chain: the fuel extraction and supply, electricity generation, electricity transmission, and running the light bulb itself. It found that costs to deliver the same service could differ by about 30%, while carbon dioxide emissions to provide that service could differ by more than 90% and primary energy use by 75%. For example, per lumen-year, a standard incandescent bulb, powered by electricity from a conventional coal-fired power station in the USA, cost only fractionally more than a compact fluorescent bulb four times its purchase price, but run from a modern combined-cycle natural gas turbine with carbon scrubbing. The compact fluorescent bulb had 25% of the primary energy demand of the incandescent bulb and less than 10% of its carbon dioxide emissions. So cost savings bore little relationship to environmental and resource savings. In addition, the differences in energy consumption were almost entirely on account of the different bulbs, whereas the carbon dioxide savings were divided between the effect of cleaner fuel and the more energy efficient light bulb.

The modern industrial economies of North America, Europe and parts of East Asia consume immense quantities of energy and raw materials, and produce high volumes of wastes and polluting emissions. The magnitude of this economic activity is causing environmental damage on a global scale (notably climate change) and widespread pollution and disruption of ecosystems, often in countries far removed from the site of consumption. Considerable progress has been made in controlling pollution at local and transboundary levels in the wealthier industrialized countries but the wider-scale impacts have yet to be tackled effectively.

International Energy Agency (IEA)
United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment)
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)
World Economic Forum (WEF)
World Energy Council (WEC)
Friends of the Earth International (FoEI)
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Fossil Fuels Forum
European Technology Platform for Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants (ZEP)
Fossil Fuel Foundation of Africa (FFF)
Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM)
Planetary Association for Clean Energy (PACE)
Africa Clean Energy Group (AFRICLEG)
International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)
Global Renewable Fuels Alliance (GRFA)
World Council for Renewable Energy (WCRE)
African Renewable Energy Alliance (AREA)
Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE)
East African Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (EACREEE)
European Renewable Energies Federation (EREF)
European Renewable Gas Registry (ERGaR)
European Renewable Raw Materials Association (ERRMA)
EUROSOLAR - European Association for Renewable Energy
Pacific Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (PCREEE)
Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (RCREEE)
ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE)
European Forum for Renewable Energy Sources (EUFORES)
Inter-Islamic Network on Renewable Energy Sources (INRES)
International Renewable Energy Alliance (Ren Alliance)
Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP)
Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21)
Renewables Grid Initiative (RGI)
World Renewable Energy Network (WREN)
International Renewable Resources Institute
Nordic Folkecenter for Renewable Energy
Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC)
Greenpeace International
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
Problem Type:
C: Cross-sectoral problems
Date of last update
23.02.2022 – 18:21 CET